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Is there anything we can do to help patients with autism and Alzheimer's in addition to medications?

Updated: Feb 29, 2020

Neurologic disorders, like autism or Alzheimer's disease, are among the most difficult to treat.  Both diseases are multi-factorial or multiple factors are involved in the progression of the illnesses. Factors like chronic inflammation in the body, neuroinflammation, imbalance in the gut's bacteria, high levels of toxins like toxic metals and pesticides are some contributors to the degeneration of neurons. There are no approved medications for autism or Alzheimer's that can address those issues.

These diseases are classified as incurable, but I believe that we can slow down the progress with nutrition and lifestyle changes.  In our body, we have a master antioxidant called glutathione. It is beneficial to our body in getting rid of toxins and lowering inflammation.  Autistic patients are deficient in glutathione and neurons (brain cells) require a large amount of glutathione to sustain cognitive function in neurodegenerative diseases. There is a communication pathway in our body that is called Nrf2 genes. These genes create antioxidant compounds in our body including an increase production of glutathione.

Nutrition is the best way to increase the Nrf2 genes pathway. Basically, when you eat vegetables and fruit, you are helping your own cell to make antioxidants that are helpful in getting rid of toxins and protecting the cell from stress. Research indicates that some of the food components like broccoli, garlic, resveratrol, pomegranate, turmeric, fish oil, and blueberries stimulate the Nrf2 pathway. In addition to nutrients and foods, calorie restriction, and exercise can stimulate Nrf2 and may improve brain function.

In reality, there is no chronic inflammation, but sustained inflammation. This term of sustained inflammation was brilliantly explained by the physician Alex Vasquez from the International College of Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine. If our diet is not rich in foods that decrease inflammation and improve the levels of antioxidants in our body, then we are unknowingly sustaining inflammation and decreasing the ability of our body in getting rid of toxins. In a study published in the American Society of Clinical Nutrition, eating a fast-food type of meal rich in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats increases inflammation, and this inflammation is sustained for at least three hours.  If we keep eating this type of unhealthy diet, our levels of inflammation are going to remain at high levels all the time.

I am a firm believer that we can improve the brain function of patients with autism and Alzheimer's Disease with beneficial foods.  We make a decision every day with every forkful that we introduce to our mouth.  Every bite will make you more inflamed or less inflamed.  It's our decision.  This decision of which foods to eat is crucial for patients with autism and Alzheimer's, which causes high levels of inflammation in the brain and the rest of the body.

References:   Aljada, A., Mohanty, P., Ghanim, H., Abdo, T., Tripathy, D., Chaudhuri, A., & Dandona, P. (2004). Increase in intranuclear nuclear factor κB and decrease in inhibitor κB in mononuclear cells after a mixed meal: evidence for a proinflammatory effect. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 79(4), 682-690. Fernandez-Fernandez, S., Bobo-Jimenez, V., Requejo-Aguilar, R., Gonzalez-Fernandez, S., Resch, M., Carabias-Carrasco, M., ... & Bolaños, J. P. (2018). Hippocampal neurons require a large pool of glutathione to sustain dendrite integrity and cognitive function. Redox Biology, 19, 52-61. Hodges, R. E., & Minich, D. M. (2015). Modulation of metabolic detoxification pathways using foods and food-derived components: a scientific review with clinical application. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, 2015. Hodgson, N. W., Waly, M. I., Al-Farsi, Y. M., Al-Sharbati, M. M., Al-Farsi, O., Ali, A., ... & Deth, R. C. (2014). Decreased glutathione and elevated hair mercury levels are associated with nutritional deficiency-based autism in Oman. Experimental Biology and Medicine, 239(6), 697-706.

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